Business & Real Estate

'The yoga of awareness': Alternative practice offered through local studios


Courtesy of Susan Mirbach
Katie Sinnott, center, in white, poses with participants in a kundalini yoga class on National Kundalini Yoga Day, a tradition started a few years ago, April 27 last year.

Two local women are working to expand kundalini yoga classes to yoga studios throughout Silicon Valley. To start, they’re spreading the word about weekend classes at Yoga of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills Town Hall.

According to teachers Susan Mirbach and Miki Duisterhof, kundalini yoga is for people intimidated by the perceived demands of yoga, and participants don’t need any yoga experience.

Kundalini yoga goes back to the roots of yoga, brought to the United States by Yogi Bhajan, a man born a prince in what is now Pakistan. Known as “the yoga of awareness,” Mirbach noted that it brings some of the most traditional aspects of mindfulness to a society constantly bombarded with change.

“One of (Bhajan’s) key philosophies was that this is yoga for real people with real lives, working real jobs, not going into caves and meditating,” she said. “It wasn’t (meant) to pull anybody out of the real world.”

Kundalini yoga is inspired by the philosophy that we are perfect as we are, Duisterhof added, and Bhajan saw everyone at their highest potential.

The ancient practice includes physical postural exercises, breathwork, mantras and meditation. Bhajan created thousands of flows, called “kriyas,” for teachers to guide students through, meaning students could go years without repeating the same one or even the same individual moves, Mirbach said. Bhajan, familiar with numerous types of meditation, took his environment and incorporated it into kundalini yoga. Surrounded by musicians, the yogi wrote music and the beats of instruments into his practice.

What to expect

Although kundalini yoga is a workout, it isn’t meant for those who seek strenuous and more physical-type yoga like bikram, according to the instructors. Kundalini yoga is just as much about the mind, if not more, than the body. The practice is a happy medium between bikram and meditation-based yoga like jivamukti; teachers focus on activating specific types of energy, such as the fire that comes from the core.

“So you walk into class and you might feel frazzled, quite stressed or scattered,” Duisterhof said. “The way the classes work is through different sequences, and that brings you to a more focused point within yourself. … It really focuses you and then it calms you. So people generally leave feeling very grounded, very centered and more at home with themselves.”

Because kundalini yoga is a mix of bodily and spiritual strength, those who try the classes may feel simultaneously sore from the physical challenges – Duisterhof said she sometimes ask her students to hold positions for more than 10 minutes – and find satisfaction in slowing down and feeling a sense of calm.

Kundalini yoga fits even the busiest lifestyles, Compass realtor and yoga participant Susan Sims said. Sims attends Duisterhof’s class before her open houses on weekends to help her prepare to seize the day.

“You’re doing a lot of movements that help the different systems in your body, so you can feel them detoxifying you and moving the energy around to clear out any energy that’s kind of stuck,” said Sims, a student of traditional yoga for eight years before trying kundalini yoga. “What I think is a little different is it’s a way to go inward, to take a check of where I am and what I am feeling. … It’s self-introspection, which a lot of times we don’t take the time to do.”

Kundalini yoga is an acquired taste, Sims admitted. A Google search of what the practice may encompass cues descriptions such as “jumping,” “yelling” and “chanting.” But moving past the comfort zone and embracing the practice is worth the variety of techniques.

“There’s no right or wrong way (to do yoga),” Sims said. “Just go see if you like it. It’s a good opportunity for people who feel like they’re not in this ‘tough shape.’”

Duisterhof echoed Sims’ sentiment, noting that it is OK if kundalini yoga isn’t “everyone’s cup of tea.”

“I tell everyone it’s wacky and wonderful,” Mirbach said.

Duisterhof teaches kundalini yoga 8:30-10 a.m. Saturdays through May 23 at Los Altos Hills Town Hall. To register, visit bit.ly/2RiagW6.

Katie Sinnott teaches ongoing classes 1:30-2:45 p.m. Sundays at Yoga of Los Altos. To register, visit yogaoflosaltos.com/schedule.

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